How to Run (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Christianity is often compared with a race. “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it” (1 Cor 9:24). “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).
Because Christianity is a race, we need a coach to tell us how to run, someone who can look for mistakes and help us make correction. In this morning’s passage, the author of Hebrews becomes our coach to tell us how to run. Let’s examine this passage to see what advice he has.
Look to the Witnesses, v 1
“Therefore we also since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.”
The “therefore” at verse 1 ties what the author says here to the previous section—the cloud of witnesses, then, refers to those the author has discussed in Hebrews 11, “The Roll Call of the Faithful.”
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. The Greek term for “cloud” here does not refer to a single cloud. The term refers to a sky full of clouds. This term was often used in antiquity to refer to a great crowd of people.
The term witness could mean that the faithful mentioned in Hebrews 11 are witnesses to the truth, but the idea is probably that they are witnesses to the race that we are running. The picture is that we Christians are in an ancient arena running, and the faithful of all the ages are watching us. The image is a figurative way to describe the faithful as encouraging us on our Christian journey.
“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us.”
We must lay aside every weight. The idea of laying aside every weight could refer to the practice of removing artificial weights athletes used in training but did not use when running the race. But this more than likely has to do with the practice of Grecian athletes removing their clothing before they ran. Athletes ran nude so that they would be unencumbered in their running. Athletes could easily trip over the robes they wore everyday, and they removed those robes to keep anything from preventing their winning.
We need to lay aside every weight, too. The weight here is not sin, for the author will tell us to rid ourselves of sin in the next phrase. The weight is anything which prevents our running our Christian race as well as we ought. There are things which are not sinful but not beneficial to us as Christians: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful” (1 Cor 10:23). What in your life prevents your running the Christian race as well as you ought? What are you doing to get rid of it?
We must lay aside the sin which so easily ensnares us. The Greek term for “easily ensnares” has a variety of meanings, and pinpointing the exact meaning here is actually quite difficult. The meaning could be: (a) easily avoided; (b) admired; (3) easily surrounding, besetting; (4) dangerous. Again, the meaning is probably that of taking off a robe that cold easily entangle a runner. Sin takes us off the course, keeps us from finishing the race. We can’t allow sin to prevent us from accomplishing the goal of finishing our Christian race!
We need to run with endurance the race that is set before us. Endurance refers to patience, steadfastness, perseverance. We need perseverance as Christians. “My beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58). “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Rev 3:11). Endurance doesn’t give up, endurance says, “I’m gong to do it as difficult as it is.”
Look to Jesus, v 2
We are to look to Jesus. The Greek term “look” means far more than simply looking at Jesus; the term means to look away from one thing to look at another. The meaning is that we should look away from those things which will hinder us and fix our eyes firmly on the Lord. Just as runners must fix their eyes firmly on their goal, we need to fix our eyes firmly on Jesus.
Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. The Greek term author means something like “pioneer” or “leader.” This term was used for the founders of schools or those who cut a path for others to follow. The idea is that Jesus paved a way for others to follow. Jesus was the trailblazer; he came, set an example for us to follow. We need to make a concerted effort to follow the example of Jesus.
Jesus is also the finisher of our faith. “Our” does not appear in the Greek; thus, the proper reading would be—“the author and finisher of faith.” The meaning is that Jesus finished his race, he finished the faith, he didn’t give up, he endured. Let us follow that example and finish the faith.
For the joy that was set before Jesus, he endured the cross, despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him. Jesus went to the cross, knowing just how despicable a death it would be, because he knew that in the end, he would have joy. He knew he had to endure that painful death in order to have the joy of saving us from our sin.
This demonstrates that sometimes we must endure short-term pain to have long-term good. We vaccinate our children, knowing it will bring short-term pain but long-term good.
There are times in our Christian lives that we must endure pain to have long-term good. This discussion of Jesus’ having endured pain for joy had to have something to do with the fact that the Hebrews were facing persecution—Hebrews 10:32-34. The author is saying, “Jesus endured suffering for long-term good; you can endure suffering for long-term good, to receive eternal life.”
We may need to endure pain as Christians to have long-term good. We may need to bear the reproach of family, of friends for doing what is right. We may need to leave a well-paying job because an employer asks us to do what is unethical. We may need to endure fierce temptations. Jesus endured the pain of the cross for long-term good, and we, too, can endure suffering for long-term good.
Jesus despised the shame of the cross. Mankind has never devised a more horrible or humiliating death than crucifixion. But Jesus counted the shame of the cross as nothing in order to do what he came to earth to do and save man from sin. Again, here is the idea that Jesus endured short-term pain for long-term good.
Jesus has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Because Jesus endured suffering, he was exalted to God’s right hand. God blessed Jesus, God exalted Jesus, exactly because he endured the pain of the cross. The point to these Hebrew Christians is that if they endured their persecutions, their sufferings, they would be exalted as well.
If we finish our race, God will exalt us. He will not exalt us to his right hand, to the same position as Jesus, but he will exalt us nonetheless. We know “that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Jesus Christ” (Col 3:24). We are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Rom 8:17).
How are you running this morning? Are you running, looking to the great cloud of witnesses and looking to Jesus?
Do you need to begin running your race this morning?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.